Here’s a question for you. Which recently selected England batsman has looked the best in terms of technique and temperament: Gary Ballance, James Vince, Tom Westley, Dawid Malan, Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman, Ben Duckett, Nick Compton, Adam Lyth, or … Chris Woakes? I know which guy has impressed me most. And he comes with the added benefit of being an effective seam bowler too (particularly at home).
We’ve often argued on this blog that Chris Woakes looks better with the willow than most of the so called specialist batsmen in England’s top six, and yesterday he proved it with an incredibly composed maiden test century in tricky circumstances. He even seemed to tutor the experienced Jonny Bairstow, who produced an effective but somewhat frenetic 93 which has become somewhat typical of England’s white ball batsmen in recent times.
It says something about Woakes’s temperament that it was he, an all-rounder who was left out of the side at Edgbaston, that seemed to be the calm head and the wise old sage at the crease. He might not always be effective with the ball overseas, but he’s certainly capable of being a true test all-rounder in the Ben Stokes mould. In fact, yesterday he showed the senior batsmen exactly how to approach a test innings: be sound in defence, and adopt a positive in mindset without being reckless or macho. I was mightily impressed.
England’s batsmen were in a spot of bother (again!) until Bairstow and Woakes arrived at the crease. Alastair Cook drove well until an infuriating old habit proved his downfall again: he was squared up and on the hop with both feet in the air when he edge behind. Keaton Jennings also failed again and has done nothing to suggest that Ed Smith was right to recall him. I agreed that Jennings deserved another chance at test level but thus far he looks to have the same problems.
Joe Root also played a strangely unconvincing innings for him. Perhaps the pitch was still tricky to bat on at this stage? The captain struggled to score and at times young Ollie Pope looked a tad more composed. I’m still not convinced that a player as inexperienced as Pope should be batting at 4 – yesterday was the first time he’d ever batted in the first ten overs of a first class innings – but it just wouldn’t be Ed Smith unless the team had something funky and headline grabbing about it.
First it was Bess (called up too early and then dropped unceremoniously after impressing with bat instead of ball), then it was Tom Curran (who again might turn into a better batsman than bowler), and now it’s the prodigious young Pope. Personally I thought he did pretty well for a debutant, but I do worry about exposing him this high up the order so soon. We need to treat our best talents with delicacy and common sense. And I fear that batting a county 6 at 4 is far from clever.
Next came Jonny Bairstow, whose innings included some sumptuous blows but also quite a few ill-advised swipes that might have proved his undoing on a different day. I love Jonny to bits, and enjoy watching him play, but I do worry that his sudden arrival as a white ball star has affected his approach to test batting.
And then came Jos Buttler, who seemed to play another quirky one-day innings. Buttler seems to walk down the pitch to the bowlers too much, which leaves him susceptible to full and straight deliveries. It wasn’t really a surprise when he got pinned in front. I’d look at this method if I were him. It worked well against Pakistan but the video analysts soon spot these things and start planning ways to undermine peculiar methods. He was pinned in front by Ashwin in Birmingham too.
But then came the Mighty Woakes (now called the Royal Woakes as I’ve used the previous pun liberally in the past) to show them how it’s done. He played a lovely orthodox innings that was perhaps even something of a throwback. He played pretty straight, rarely threw his hands at balls that weren’t there to hit (one aberration in his 90s apart) and he compiled what should prove to be a match winning contribution. Well played mate!
Woakes is now on the Lord’s honours boards for taking five wickets in an innings, ten wickets in a match, and scoring a century too. I can’t imagine too many people can boast that. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the home dressing room at Lord’s and I can only remember the name Ian Botham achieving such a feat (although there may have been others I’ve forgotten).
I think what this test match has shown yet again is that Woakes simply must play all home test matches, even if / when Ben Stokes returns. Yes there’s an argument that England should be looking to create a team that can compete in all conditions, home and away, but while Ed Smith is following a horses-for-courses policy there’s simply no reason to leave him out. If Stokes suddenly become available again then I’d argue that either Curran (whose time will surely come) or Buttler should make way. After all, Woakes has a higher first class batting average than the latter anyway.
Before the last test we were told that Woakes was omitted because he wasn’t match-sharp. I found his somewhat curious at the time, and I suspected it was simply because Smith was determined to get his funky pick for that game (which was Curran) into the starting line-up come what may. Obviously that decision paid off in a big way, so there’s no point complaining, but it’s weird that Smith justified Woakes’s recall for Lord’s because he now has more overs under this belt. After all, Woakes has played precisely zero matches since the last test (which was scheduled for 1st-5th of August). In fact, before this game he’d only played 3 T20 matches and bowed precisely 11.3 overs in the whole of August. And yet he’s still been able to play brilliantly here. I guess class is permanent my friends.
Anyway, before I sign off – and I should probably do this asap as the valium I’m taking for my bad back is beginning to kick in – I should quickly point out the bleedin’ obvious. England have got this game in the bag if the rain and bad light hold off. That means we’ll be 2-0 up and India will need to win the remaining tests to cause the upset they covet so much. And I guess there’s about as much chance of that happening as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn announcing they’re in love and eloping to Venezuela.
Just think of the benefits if it was not required that England selectors undergo a lobotomy before appointment.
At 19 Woakes was the best bowler in the county championship (by a country mile). But the selectors kept him waiting until he was 22 for a debut in any type of international……..and even then saw him as an ODI player (odd for someone who bowls a good length and bats properly). And then they demanded he add 5 mph (despite that seemingly not being a requirement for Anderson, Bresnan, Onions, Curran, Uncle Tom Cobley and all….). And by demanding the added pace they affected his control and threw away the chance of having an English Philander.
I said it years ago; if I had been Woakes I would have done a Roger Twose and changed nationality. It was clear that the selectors had one rule for Woakes and another rule for almost everyone else. I am relieved that he stayed the course, but his treatment over the years has been nothing short of a disgrace.
Andy, you have always been Woakes’s biggest fan so you deserve the chance to celebrate his marvellous performance in this game thus far. He’s a very likeable lad in interviews too. Seems very down to earth and hardworking. I just hope he can find a way to pick up more wickets overseas with a kookaburra ball. If he can do that then England will have a complete cricketer on their hands.
I had to get that off my chest! I saw him bowling as a teenager and he was able to swing it round corners at 80-82 mph. Since then he has added the 5mph and still swings it – but he now makes the batsman play at 3-4 balls per over instead of 5. Philander proves that express pace is not needed if you have the control.
I am a bit surprised that no one seems to be suggesting retaining both Woakes and Curran (if Stokes comes back) and dropping Broad. Given his batting record over 2016-18 Broad must justify his place on bowling alone, and he is very variable these days (and generally slower than Woakes or Stokes). I can only see a justification for picking him ahead of any of the others on a bouncy wicket, where his height offers variation.
Yes I think it’s Broad’s height, as well as his experience, that will probably keep him in the side.
Some thoughts – apologies if they’re a tad scattered:-
Chris Woakes – I’ve liked his batting technique ever since he handsomely drove his first ball in Test cricket for four. It’s no surprise to me that he’s played the fewest false strokes of anyone in the series because it’s a compact, uncomplicated classical technique. If I had one criticism it’s that he can get a tiny bit loose when driving the spinner. In these times of snarling aggression and gamesmanship, and the amount of stick, criticism and mocking he had during his early years, it’s nice to see a good day for one of the genuine good guys.
Jos Buttler – I’m not sure the tactic of striding down the wicket to avoid the lbw, which ends up in your being given out lbw is a serious long-term strategy. I know Ed loves him, but I’m beginning to want to see some substance to go with the mandatory “ooh, aah he’s such a talent, so dangerous” from the commentary box lickspittles.
Jennings – needs a score. Simple as.
England overall – you could posit an argument that everyone from number 3 down to number 7 is not batting in their ideal position. If that isnt some funky Ed Smith stuff, I dont know what is!
Re: Jos Buttler. He did play very well indeed against Pakistan so I’m hesitant to write him off again. However, I still worry whether he can succeed consistently at this level playing the way he does. I guess time will tell.
The problem is that he’s now vice captain so prematurely undroppable. That means I think it will come down to a strait choice between Woakes and Curran for the next game if Stokes is available. That seems rather harsh on both. After all, I can’t see them leaving out Stokes as he’s one of the most marketable stars and took vital wickets in the final innings at Edgbaston.
If when Stokes returns, would England drop Rashid or one of Buttler/Pope ?
I think they’ll retain Rashid because he was a headline grabbing pick and because we need a spinner in the side imho. I guess they could drop Pope and move Bairstow to 4. I think 4 is too high for Jonny though especially as he’s keeping wicket. Many would disagree though and / or give Jos the gloves.
I agree with the drop Broad comment if Stokes returns. All the other seam bowlers have out performed him so far and he probably needs a rest given the schedule of five tests in six weeks. Sorting out the batting order is the main problem as England have 6 all rounders/wicket keepers (Stokes, Woakes, Bairstow, Butler, Curran, Moeen) plus Pope whose natural batting positions are at 6, 7 or 8.
Since the start of 2015:
Number of Tests: 162.
Number of Tests won by the away side after losing the toss: 19.
Of the home sides who lost, five times it was WI, twice Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and once Ireland. SL lost twice to other Asian teams, SA lost twice to England and the rest were England’s occasional terrible matches.
No non-Asian team has won in Asia after losing the toss except Australia once in Bangladesh; no Asian team has won in a non-Asian country (counting WI as Asian given the pitches their these days) except Pakistan in England.
There’s some more research to be done here – but frankly, it looks like most of the time we might as well not bother once the away team has lost the toss.
I’d rather home advantage was evened up by arranging proper warm-up games, having a rigorous pitch inspection regime and taking TV pictures out of the hands of home braodcasters. But given that there’s zero chance of any of that happening under the game’s current administrators it’s time to try scrapping the toss and following the route taken by the CC.
Interesting, but for the supposed no 1 test side India don’t have much of a clue how to play a swinging ball do they. 2 down already. OK they haven’t had the run of the green, but that’s cricket, always has been. Was going tomorrow but waste of time I think even if there is no more play today.
Holding was banging on about scrapping the toss. I don’t agree. What’s wrong with home advantage?
I’m hoping that Stokes will be given an opportunity to give Her Majesty some pleasure.
Weather aside, we should make short work of this inferior Indian team, but probably not as quickly as
Geoff Arnold and Chris Old rattled through India at Lords in 1974.
The pitch , the crowd, and the fact that you’re staying at home not enough of an advantage?
In fact in Sri Lanka, winning the toss is so important that when Sri Lanka lose the toss (since 2011), they only have a winning record against mighty Zimbabwe. And they needed the assistance of a frankly incompetent third umpire to achieve that feat. That includes losing records against India, South Africa and Australia (and drawing records against Pakistan and New Zealand). It is just that they win the tosses that matter.
Oh, and it is 22-7 for whoever wins the toss in Sri Lanka since 2011. That means you’re more than 3 times as likely to win than to lose, depending on your tossing ability. That seems a little bit too much to be just a minor advantage.
Cook needs a score as much as Jennings.
Buttler is no more a test match batsman than I am.
Pope is one position too high minimum.
Root is either injured or out of nick.
Good job India are dreadful really.
I’m not so sure that India are terrible, so mch as a team who are not used to being on the receiving end, and it tends to amplify some poor selection decisions (much like England away from home)
For England, a battery of all-rounders (or bits and pieces players) at home helped disguise how badly the top order was performing, and how useless the selection panel was but when the all-rounders failed (as they were inevitably wont to do at some point) they got shellacked.
For India, they always want two spinners, but that was never really going to be an option here, so they then worried about the batting and picked a guy who isnt really a third seamer. The top order also had its deficiencies masked by Kohli.
But you could argue that Steve Smith masked some Aussie top order deficiencies during the winter as well. It’s just not a great era of Test cricket, unfortunately. One of the consistent selection issues for Aussie is the thrall of an all-rounder at six when they dont really have someone up to it…
Australia have usually been at their best with 6 batsmen, a keeper, and 4 bowlers. Obviously it helps if the 4 man attack contains the likes of Warne and McGrath though! But then again they used to get by with guys like Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes too. As long as the 4 are good quality, and someone like Steve / Mark Waugh can fill in a few overs here and there.
Hopefully we can win the 3rd test too and can we then ‘try out’ a new batting line up and rest one or two others?
Burns (plays 3rd test also for jennings)
Anderson (Will want to take as many wickets whilst he can)
I am assuming stokes is still not available for this line up. The issue is lack of left handers in the batting but all down to 10 can do a bit…
With the way India are batting, England could pick 7 bowlers, Pope, Bairstow, and Woakes / Stokes (if available), and the mascot for the sponsor, and still be odds on favourites to dish out a trashing.
India have been worse than pathetic, especially with the bat. Kohli excepted naturally – and the same can be said to some extent for Ashwin and Pandya, who have proven to be comfortably second and third best batsmen these series for them thus far. If that does not highlight how bog average this series has been, I don’t know what will.
At the time of writing this the English bowlers have put another nail in the coffin of Indias fragile morale.
Don’t think there’s any point changing our side for the next test, unless Stokes magically becomes available.
Messing with a winning side rarely comes off and our batsmen know what to expect from the Indian bowlers.
Would like to see Butler at 4 where he has some responsibility to play an innings building knock. He showed against Pakistan that he can knuckle down and play responsibly, so give him a chance to make a difference. Bairstow can then bat at 5 and Pope his natural 6. 4 is too high by popular consent.
Don’t understand the support for Bess, as he looked totally toothless as a front line spinner against Pakistan. Would rather see Moin, though Leach certainly deserves consideration. It shouldn’t matter that he can’t bat.
India aren’t World no1’s test team for nothing so they have the ability to stage a comeback if conditions improve. After all Edgbaston was a close run thing. They’ve always struggled over here against the moving ball, but then again so have we. This itinerary doesn’t give any time for either side to develop much outside the test arena. For India you feel it’s all over bar the shouting if they lose early wickets again.
Woakes ahead of Stokes everyday for me. I struggle to understand why Stokes is viewed as such an automatic selection if available. He is another inconsistent “luxury” player at test level.